By Msgr. Antun Cirimotic, secretary general of Caritas Macedonia
Refugees and migrants enter Macedonia from Greece through the town of Gevgelija on the southern border. We have been on a field trip there and to the northern border point of Tabanovce, where they enter into Serbia.
What we saw is that the migrants come in either smaller or bigger groups, with their numbers varying from a few hundreds to a few thousands. According to the latest information that we have, in the period from 19 June to 25 August, 2015, the Macedonian authorities issued 46,314 authorisations to foreign citizens.
Well over 37,000 of the people who come through Macedonia are Syrian refugees. Many of the others come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Palestine, Bangladesh, Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Eritrea and Ethiopia. The majority are young men, but you also have quite a few women and also children.
From the situation that we witnessed from our field visit, it is obvious that the migrants are exhausted through lack of sleep. Their greatest needs – apart from a place to sleep – are water, food and hygiene materials.
Humanitarian organisations give the migrants in Gevgelija food, water and basic hygiene materials, but the main problem remains that they don’t have any accommodation. Thus, they sleep in the parks and in the open.
Macedonia is trying to provide accommodation at least for the women and children. The principal need is to create the basic conditions for accommodation during their stay in Gevgelija, even more so now that the autumn and the rainy period are approaching and this problem becomes ever more urgent.
Another main problem is the general hygiene situation in Gevgelija. The local council is continually working to preserve the cleanliness and the hygiene in the city, but the great number of incoming migrants means they cannot achieve the intended results.
In order to overcome or to at least ease this situation, the EU should provide financial help to the countries dealing with the migrants and to help them cover their huge expenditures related to this situation.
From Gevgelija the migrants leave for the border point in Tabanovce so they can go to Serbia. Some of the migrants use trains, others use buses, but there are also those who take a taxi, which is the most expensive means of transport as the distance from Gevgelija to Tabanovce is 176 km.
Caritas Macedonia aims to help the migrants at Tabanovce by providing them water, food and hygiene materials, so that they have enough to satisfy their needs until they reach Serbia.
The authorities on both a national and European level could do more to help the refugees and migrants. They could ensure that they have temporary accommodation space in Gevgelija. This is of vital importance.
The same applies for both Greece and Serbia. Macedonia and its neighbouring countries affected by the influx of refugees and migrants don’t have the capacities and means to deal with so many extra people on their own.
In order to overcome or to at least ease this situation, the EU should provide financial help to the countries dealing with the migrants and to help them cover their huge expenditures related to this situation. In the long term, we believe that the real solution to this problem is if the global actors who can influence this situation do their best to remove the causes which cause the refugee and migrant crisis.
Evidence shows that this situation of migrants – for the most part refugees – coming to europe will not ease off for the foreseeable future. This will worsen the situation in Macedonia where there are a great number of extremely poor families. The unemployment rate in Macedonia is 27.3 percent, whereas the number of families who are beneficiaries of state benefits 50 euro per month is around 30,000 out of a population of 2.1 million.
Caritas Macedonia has to remain faithful to its principles, which means helping the refugees and migrants, but at the same time, it should also help the others who are in need in the country. Because of that, Caritas Macedonia needs fraternal help from the Caritas family.